Improvements to infrastructure and the environment go hand-in-hand on Majuro
Who doesn’t like a win-win situation? Majuro residents and visitors can rest assured that ongoing projects to improve the public safety and operations in and around Amata Kabua International Airport (AKIA) need not have negative effects on the local fish and wildlife. At a meeting held May 9 at the RMI Ports Authority (RMIPA) office, representatives from the RMI Environmental Protection Authority (RMI EPA) and their private consultants met with RMIPA to discuss the current Runway Safety Area Improvement project, which will upgrade standards at the airport to provide safer conditions for travelers.
As part of this project, the roadway adjacent to the airport will be realigned, which is requiring dredging in some areas of the lagoon along the roadside. The EPA has been involved with this work every step of the way to ensure that the work being done in the lagoon conforms to an Environmental Management Plan that includes strict guidelines regarding the impact that construction work may have on environmental conditions. RMIPA Director Jack Chong-Gum said at the meeting that the dredging currently being performed adhered to this plan. “It is very important to us that we make sure all construction work associated with this project is following the environmental management plan approved by the EPA,” he said. As part of these efforts to mitigate any potential long-term risks to the environment, RMIPA is working closely with the EPA on a coral reef rehabilitation project, which has been underway since last year, to replant and propagate existing corals that are being affected by the dredging.
The planting project is already in full swing, as new corals have been growing in cages since January and are currently flourishing in the lagoon at a new site alongside the road near the airport fire station. After the dredging work is completed, this new coral will be relocated back to the original site and used to repopulate the area, leaving the coral at the current dredge site as strong and healthy as ever. Currently, the dredging work is approximately 60 percent complete and the dredged site will be significantly smaller than originally projected, meaning the coral rehabilitation footprint will not be as large as initially expected. RMIPA is working diligently to ensure that potential environmental impacts are being addressed throughout the multiple phases of this project, which will also include new shoreline protection work at the dredge site to protect the road to the airport and the Majuro reservoirs from erosion. At the meeting, EPA Chairman Reginald White said that this shoreline revetment work also is of important environmental concern. “We want to reiterate that the revetment work was a mandatory condition for approval of this project, due to the potential future effects that erosion and sea-level rise may have on this area,” he said. Meanwhile, according to the coral expert contracted by EPA to spearhead the regrowth efforts, the new coral in the lagoon are growing even better than expected. Before the new plantings, a survey of the affected areas was performed to identify the specific coral species present. After the new coral farm had been constructed, test corals were planted to confirm this location would provide healthy growth for the corals being farmed. Coral was then relocated from the affected area to the farm site by use of a boat and divers and the corals were separated into individual cages by species to hold and grow until coral fragmenting work starts. This coral fragmenting and attachment of coral plugs will begin soon as part of the next phase of the project. This will be in preparation for replanting onto boulders and concrete structures that are to be constructed in the affected area. These concrete structures, called reef balls, are designed artificial reefs used to restore ailing coral reefs and to create new fishing and scuba diving sites. Reef balls are made of a special, marine-friendly concrete and are designed to mimic natural reef systems.
The coral pieces growing onto the plugs at the farm site will then be attached onto the reef balls at the dredging location when the dredging and shoreline protection work is finished. Thereafter, the attached coral will be monitored regularly by divers to ensure the corals are growing properly. This is very exciting as it is the first coral rehabilitation project to be undertaken in the Marshall Islands. The coral replanting and rehabilitation is just one part of the work being done to make sure that the runway and road realignment project is good for the community, remediates harm to the marine environment and overall is very positive for the environment. Additionally, there are recreational and beautification efforts underway, which include plans for a new community park with playground facilities and public exercise areas to be located in an area between the terminal building and the airport water reservoirs. “This is a really good project because there are various benefits to the public that will be coming as a result of the work currently being performed,” said Chong-Gum. “Not only will it improve safety for our airport users, but there are some exciting community development projects that are in the works, too.”